Giving Peruvian Children the Power of Communication

shutterstock_128823346

 

In March, I traveled to Lima, Peru, with our Mercy College communications disorders program director, Helen Buhler, and a team of 27 physicians, surgeons, nurses, technicians and other SLPs. We were there as part Mercy College’s partnership with Healing the Children, Northeast, which provides primarily surgical services to children in need in the United States and abroad.

Over the week we were there, 37 children had surgery; some had traveled for 7 days to reach the hospital. We SLPs worked on parent training, peer training and direct service delivery. Here are some excerpts from the blog I kept during our visit.

~~~~

I cried when Dr. Manoj Abraham—a surgeon from Vassar Hospital—put the last stitch into the baby’s lip.

On Friday, Helen, Marianella Bonelli—an SLP and Mercy alum—and I visited with all the parents on the ward. For those whose children had had a lip repair, we celebrated together, admiring their beautiful babies. For those who had their lips repaired but still would need palate surgery in the future, we also gave advice on helping the kids develop good speech habits now to establish good airflow from the mouth after the palate is closed. We worked directly with the kids who had newly closed palates and their parents, teaching about how to bring the sounds out through the mouth and not the nose. Needless to say, there were many therapy materials, toys and goodies passed around, ensuring we went home empty handed but the kids did not.

After speech rounds, we put on fresh scrubs and went to surgery. Dr. Abraham was operating on a baby with a cleft lip that went up into her nose all the way, and welcomed us to observe him.

He was putting this baby’s nose together, carefully making it match the other side as much as possible. He worked some more on the deep layers of the lip, making sure it would be able to have free movement. Then he sutured the philtrum, the raised line that runs down from your nostril to the beginning of the red part of your lip. Suddenly, this baby had a sweet Cupid’s bow of a mouth…a mouth that would pout and pucker, shout, whisper…

Even though it was my second time in the OR and I thought I was over it, I cried and cried. Writing this now, I’m crying again.

What a gift.

~~~~

As I came into the speech office (a commandeered storage room), I saw Helen doing…arts and crafts? 

Helen always says we do cowgirl therapy on these trips—shooting from the hip. When an 11-year-old girl with cerebral palsy arrived with very few spoken words, and those few only intelligible to her mom, Helen created an old school low-tech augmentative communication device. She used paper, a sheet protector and some of our speech materials to create a board with some basic vocabulary.

The mom was thrilled to have a way for her daughter to communicate some wants and needs to others in her life. Helen showed her how to create more pages for the board as the child mastered its use. The mom’s eyes were shining—it was so obvious that the board would be implemented immediately.

Based on a quick evaluation, it was clear that the child understood a lot more than she could say, so we hope this is a way she can start to “say” something to the world at last.

~~~~

We also worked with a four year old boy with hearing loss due to a malformation of the external and middle ear. He has had recurrent ear infections and had drainage from one ear. He was taking an assortment of antibiotics, and his mom had a thick folder of medical records with her. Although his audiological testing shows a hearing loss, he is not currently a candidate for surgery (Dr. Ryan Brown graciously gave him an exam on the fly to double check).

Helen spent some time with the mom, teaching about behavior management, and I taught her about sign language. I taught them three signs: “go,” “more” and “eat.” The kid chased me around the grounds of the hospital, as we worked our way over to our surgical consult, and I would only run if he signed, “go.” We went from hand-over-hand to slight physical prompt, to following a model for the sign “go.”

The mother was shocked at how positive our interaction was—he was laughing as he chased me. Soon, this kid will experience the power of controlling his world through communication.

Score one for the speech department.

Shari Salzhauer Berkowitz, PhD, CCC-SLP, is an assistant professor at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 10 (Issues in Higher Education) and 17 (Global Issues in Communications Sciences and Related Disorders). Her research interests include cross-language and bilingual speech perception, multi-modal speech perception and integrating technology and instrumentation into the communication disorders curriculum.

 

Strategic Planning: Take a Breath and Plan Your Year

pebble beach

Photo by waferboard

As SLPs, we are quite familiar with designing long-term objectives and breaking those down into short-term outcomes, but are we doing it for our own personal and professional growth? For me, the true start of the year is always in September, when the academic year begins, so summer is the time to pause and plan for the year to come. In the past, I have actually written out LTOs and STOs for myself during the summer lull…some years I have done better on these than others, I admit.

The traditional duties of a full-time academic (like me) are teaching, scholarship and service. Some of my service has been spent on strategic planning, for the college, the school and the department. I have learned a few things about how people and organizations approach this task of creating short- and long-term goals, and have a new paradigm to offer for your consideration. Well, it’s not actually new (attributed to Humphrey in the 1960’s), but it is used more frequently by businesspeople to help generate and evaluate goals, so it was new to me.

In a SWOT analysis, you write down Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Strengths and Weaknesses are intrinsic to you as a person (or department or organization) and Opportunities and Threats are extrinsic or environmental. You then try to connect the dots between the four quadrants and see how each informs the other. There are plenty of free templates and guides for SWOT analysis on the web, but here is one geared to personal growth.

Whether you use the traditional LTO/STO format, or try something new such as SWOT, or just have a good talk with a smart, trusted colleague, take the time to make a plan and then, during the year, check in and see how you are doing on your goals. If you have a written plan, it becomes easier to say “no” to activities or duties that knock you off track, and it can help you prioritize your time and efforts. If you actually have a plan, you can stop and ask yourself, “Is this contributing to my long term goals?” and act accordingly.

I’ll check back in with you after I write my own SWOT analysis—right now, I am swamped with marking papers and putting in grades…let’s hope that summer lull actually shows up on time!

 

Shari Salzhauer Berkowitz, PhD, CCC-SLP is an assistant professor at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, NY. She teaches courses in speech science, voice disorders, behavioral feeding disorders and research design. Her research interests include cross-language and bilingual speech perception, multi-modal speech perception and integrating technology and instrumentation into the communication disorders curriculum. She has been a practicing SLP and feeding interventionist since 1998.

Summer Writing: Try a Tomato?

Tomatos


Photo by Thelonious Gonz

Summer always slips through my fingers, like the fish that got away. I never manage to get to the beach, or out on my sailboat, or to the free outdoor concerts, as much as I hope to in April (or, as I dream of in February, as the snow falls). September always brings a to-do list with lots of stuff that, sadly, is still left to do.

Academic summer writing is the same way. As we reconvene in September, how many of us cast our eyes down and mutter that we did not get anywhere near enough done. The mood, the timing, the temperature, the situation…something kept us from it. As the summer winds down, we frantically try to finish off the stuff we have been (let’s face it) goofing around with all season long. It’s disheartening.

As a graduate student, I had to write almost all the time, and even as I deposited my dissertation, I felt that I was still developing my method of getting it done without too many tears. Now that it is almost a year later, I still struggle with the best way to get the most done as a productive writer. I would rather lecture, supervise, carry out my current research, plan my next research project…but, if I don’t write up and publish, my research will remain unknown, and where’s the good in that?

So, here’s my proposal: We’ve got six weeks of summer left; let’s help each other. I will tell you a few of the tips that worked for me, and you share some that worked for you…or didn’t. I didn’t invent any of these methods, but some I have made my own. Here are a few:

  • Go someplace else. If you have been writing at home (in your pajamas, admit it), go to a library. You’ll find that any campus or town librarian will help you find a nook, get connected, and maybe even print stuff out, when they hear you are a frantic academic. It might be even better than going to your own campus, where it is too easy to get distracted by colleagues and students. I wrote my second exam paper (a giant lit review) at the local community college, reporting in the morning and working for a few steady hours. I had all the documents I needed loaded onto my laptop, so I was able to…
  • Keep the internet off. There are lots of applications out there that can either track the time you spend on non-work websites, or keep you from accessing them for a period of time. If your phone has a data feed, you can try shutting that off and just receiving phone calls for a few hours. I leave my personal email open and downloading at home, so that I cannot check it during the day (although this backfires if people contact me through my work email). Of course, there are days where I find I must immediately know the difference between a yawl and a ketch …and the morning is gone. If you are making good use of any methods to keep the internet at bay, please share in the comments.
  • Reward yourself. The oldest trick in the book. Set it up that you can’t do X until you do Y. The trick is choosing the task to be small enough and the reward to be sweet enough so that you are indeed motivated. Hey, you’re an SLP, you can make it work for your clients, now try it for yourself.
  • Try a tomato. No, not to eat. I have had some great successes using the Pomodoro method. The key components are planning out how many 25 minute sessions it will take to complete a task, and then, when you start a session, do not allow yourself to be taken off the task. Any outside thoughts or distractions can be scribbled on a separate piece of paper so you don’t forget them. I use aspects of this, with my own modifications. I find 25 minutes too short, and sometimes use the radio news report (every half hour) as my time marker, or use an online countdown timer set for 40 minutes. The tomatoes help me when I am desperately stuck, because I can commit to one lonely tomato. That’s not so scary, is it? Then, I must write something, (anything!) until the bell releases me. My dissertation contained a whole truckload of tomatoes.
  • Keep a notebook. If you are in the habit of keeping a lab notebook, this is just an extension. Jot down your progress and stumbling blocks. Then, when you are stuck, spend a tomato, I mean a few minutes, looking over what you have already accomplished. Give yourself a pat on the back, and keep at it.

The last tip? Don’t get so involved crafting the perfect blog entry that you avoid working on your “real” writing for a whole afternoon!

Shari Salzhauer Berkowitz, PhD, CCC-SLP is an assistant professor at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, NY. She teaches courses in speech science, voice disorders, behavioral feeding disorders and research design. Her research interests include cross-language and bilingual speech perception, multi-modal speech perception and integrating technology and instrumentation into the communication disorders curriculum. She has been a practicing SLP and feeding interventionist since 1998.

The End is the Beginning

Graduation caps tossed in the air

Photo by Shiladsen

The end is the beginning.

Today is commencement. Our latest crop of graduate students will parade across the stage, after many photos filled with laughter and a few tears, and after a grueling gauntlet lasting two years or more.  I remember, quite sharply, how it felt to graduate with my master’s degree in communication disorders; as a member of the faculty, I now get to relive those feelings every May.  Some people hate to go to graduation, but not me.  I enjoy the yearly ritual, the pomp and circumstance, the excitement of the graduates.  This year is also a personal transition for me.  I have defended and deposited my dissertation at last, and will be attending commencement in my doctoral tam and hood for the first time.

The class of 2011 holds a special place in my heart, because the majority of them started their graduate studies at the same time that I started my position at Mercy.  I was a doctoral student at the time, and I was hoping the juggling act of professor/student/person with a private life was possible.  There was so much to learn!  Some of it was mundane, such as where the clinical supervision forms were kept, and some of it was fraught with meaning.  How many tests to give?  How many lab assignments?  What was the best way to measure true learning?  I can almost always find the clinical supervision forms these days, but the deeper pedagogical issues are continuously under revision.  By entering the academy, I am truly learning every day.

We call it graduation and we call it commencement and, of course, both are true at once.  My students are suddenly my newest colleagues, as they march off to varied and interesting Clinical Fellowships.  They are headed to California, and Arkansas, and right up the street, to work in schools, hospitals, home care and rehab. They leave having completed small-group original research projects, something I did not get to do until I was a doctoral student.  The adventure is just beginning for them.  I’m a little jealous.

I look at next week’s calendar.  We have orientation for the new graduate students.  I will meet most of them for the first time that day.  Some will have eyes as wide as saucers, still pinching themselves that they have finally made it to graduate school.  Some will look frozen in terror.  Some will have a veneer of confidence, although it might not take much to shatter it.  All will be eager to start on this path, the long, winding path to graduation.

Welcome…and…farewell.

Shari Salzhauer Berkowitz, PhD, CCC-SLP is an assistant professor at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, NY.  She teaches courses in speech science, voice disorders, behavioral feeding disorders and research design.  Her research interests include cross-language and bilingual speech perception, multi-modal speech perception and integrating technology and instrumentation into the communication disorders curriculum.  She has been a practicing SLP and feeding interventionist since 1998.